More than just a “Place”…Thank you, Lamplight Grill, Ionia!

todayJuly 1, 2023 51 15 5

share close

Twenty years is a long time!  It’s a VERY long time to be in business by today’s standards.  That’s how long Ionia has enjoyed the Lamplight Grill in downtown Ionia, and almost that long for me, personally.  As WION approaches 19 years on the air, it’s a bit of a parallel as The Lamplight began under Rich Thompson’s ownership about a year ahead of our team saving the signal of AM 1430.

When I came to Ionia to investigate the off-air WION and it’s town, I came during a Freefair, and when it was time eat locally before heading home a hundred or so miles,  a buddy of mine, who was going to help us rehab the studios had already been to the Ionia Chamber’s information table in the exhibition building at the fair and had picked up a “Lamplight Grill” coupon and information.  Having never been in downtown Ionia before, we drove there, found the restaurant, and sat up front by the windows during lunch. 

There are few times worse than a lunch or dinner rush to want to chat with someone from the kitchen.  I did not know Rich.  But, like an idiot, I asked my server if I could talk to the owner or manager, and. in a few minutes, out came Rich Thompson, cooking that day and obviously wondering what I wanted…from the kitchen.  After a brief explanation of my plans to rehabilitate WION, he told me “if I can do anything let me know.”  It was a chance meeting given the bad timing of lunch rush, good fortune for me that he decided to come to our table (when he really could have said, “not now” to his server)….and…it was the beginning of 18-plus years of not only great meals, but gatherings for the important people in my life, parties for WION’s staff who would drive from great distances to enjoy being there, a long-term friendship, and…the place where Ionia really BEGAN for me.

When I came to town, I still had a home in Lenawee County, about 100 miles away.  I was tied to two worlds not sure which one was my “real” one.  For a time I thought I could live there, and work here, but that was an unreal expectation.  After renting an apartment here, I found myself one night sitting on the couch watching TV feeling sorry for myself because I was homesick, and…concerned for my father who was around 90 at the time and so far away.  I felt “guilty” for not being closer to him physically after buying the station…but he felt just the reverse.  He WANTED me to do well, to have my own life, and not to stay in the area just for him.  I was feeling pretty “down” as I sat there, then a voice inside me said, “Go down to the Lamplight, sit on a bar stool, and get to know some people”…and….Ionia BEGAN for me. I did what the voice said. I went to the Lamplight, and started to meet people.  The fun at the Lamplight  began with my own personal copy of the  menu behind the bar and Di, the waitress at the time checking off items as I tried something different on each visit, then placing the menu behind one of the green glass doors of the bar til my next visit.

After that came many a meal, many a visit, many a new person met…and the Lamplight was the hub from which the spokes of my current life were formed….as more and more people became part of my daily existence.

I’ve enjoyed many a person’s company downtown at the Lamplight. Engineers for WION, friends from far away, friends from my old hometown, even my former  boss from WLKI in Angola, IN, my dear friend Marge, and others from former radio lives visited WION and of course, we ate each time,  downtown, at the Lamplight. I think I was as proud to take people there as Rich may have been as owner.   I did broadcasts for Christmas parades, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and other events from in front of Rich’s restaurant.  I remember when there was only ONE TV on the bar side, and back when they trusted me with the remote control I had everyone  sitting at the bar that night all “reading” the Simpsons out loud as I turned on closed captioning. (Since then, they have not trusted me with the remotes.) 

The end of June marks the closing of my favorite hangout in town, along with Rich’s retirement from the restaurant and he has EARNED it by hard work and commitment to community. 

The closing of the Lamplight as we know it today is a turning of the page for many people and, for downtown Ionia.  Rich has not only been on the radio for 18 years as my longest running client, but…he also has promoted almost every event that has graced our Main Street.  His absence from running the Lamplight Grill leaves a big hole in the promotion of our town.

The ONLY way I see that our downtown continues to be a destination is by other downtown businesses working together.  Specifically how?   Promote.   Communicate with each other.   ADVERTISE….like Rich did for more than 18 years.  He BELIEVED in local REAL advertising and even stayed on the air with WION when the Governess in Lansing told him he couldn’t be open.   He used Facebook as a “bonus” freebie…. not as his primary source of getting the word to people, and knew radio and our local Shopper’s guide advertiser WORKED.   He SUPPORTED WION even when his business was closed.  That, my friends is devotion to community.  Not just to the radio station, but to putting out a positive message that we’d get through that mess called “Covid”….together.

Take his lead, downtown businesses.  Weed out any arguing between owners over petty issues.  Get rid of disagreements and things that get in the way of making downtown businesses stronger and make it KNOWN you are there like he did. DRAW people to main street through advertising instead of sitting and lamenting the lack of customers you may have.

 Rich and the Lamplight were the most PERSISTENT and the most RELIABLE voice for downtown Ionia I’ve had in 18 years of owning WION. More-so at times than some organizations charged with doing promotion as their mission statement.   We  need the rest of the downtown to now take up that cause and work in harmony.  If not, the downtown area  in the town my WION is licensed, will slowly become a ghost town.

To the Lamplight itself, and Rich Thompson….if walls could talk for only my time in Ionia, they’d tell of good friends gathering with me, good food every time, much laughter, a few tears, and many friendships made BECAUSE Rich chose to own and operate the Lamplight Grill.

It has been a blessing that  I’m not a good cook, and that eating out has been my “thing.” Many people have asked me where they’ll find me hanging out now….and I honestly don’t know…but I do know that I’ve met, become friends-with, and am grateful-for the people that the Lamplight has brought to my life, and the good times had in it’s walls.

Happy retirement, Rich….and here’s hoping someone who believes in downtown as much as you have takes up the cause of letting the world know about my town. WION’s town….OUR TOWN.  Ionia.  Come by the studios, my friend…the coffee and ice tea are always on.


Written by: Jim Carlyle

Rate it

Similar posts


Help Our Troops!

Hi there folks, its WION's Internet Manager Scott here! You may have heard Jim talking about Treasure For Troops on the air, which normally takes place in November.  This year because it will be the stations tenth year "Treasures For Troops" WION is shifting into gear a little early to […]

todaySeptember 28, 2023 5


The “Name Game” Text Topic!

We stumbled onto a rather fun topic today, of "names you don't hear much of anymore" which we put a more "positive" spin-on with "Names due for a Comeback!" The response to this by text and email was amazing!  Names we don't hear often contributed include: Reginald Gertrude Mildred Irene […]

todaySeptember 19, 2023 17